Olympus E-P3 on location

Olympus E-P3 14-42mm lens
Olympus E-P3 14-42mm

Just when I thought that m4/3 was disappearing (literally!) into an ever smaller series of plastic gadgets, along comes the E-P3. It looks like a camera, feels like a camera and with a few improvements from Olympus, is a pretty good one too. 

I remember when the Panasonic GH2 I bought arrived and I opened the box. I had a sense of disappointment and my initial impression was that it looked and felt "cheap". I had no concerns about its performance, which was excellent, but I never found holding and using it a pleasure. It may have been a BMW under the hood but it was a Nissan Micra on the outside.

OK so thats overstating the case somewhat, but I've always struggled to actually like Panasonic m4/3 cameras, apart from the GF1, which was then spoilt by its really second-rate electronic viewfinder. 

The E-P3 on the other hand, looks and feels very classy. But is it the reverse? Sleek sports car on the outside, Nissan Micra on the inside?

Olympus E-P3 14-42mm lens
Olympus E-P3 14-42mm Olympus E-P3 14-42mm

Olympus E-P3 Voigtlander 75mm f/2.5 Heliar
Olympus E-P3 Voigtlander 75mm f/2.5 Heliar 

The E-P3 isn't a revolutionary upgrade by any means. From my somewhat limited use, the sensor seems to be very similar to whats gone before. However what has been upgraded, has made it the nicest of all the Pens to use. The AF is indeed very good, but I'm particularly impressed by the OLED screen and how it performs outdoors, by the more coherent re-designed menus and the slightly re-designed layout, which means that its a much more pleasant experience taking pictures with it as opposed to the E-P2.

Olympus E-P3 14-42mm lens
Olympus E-P3 14-42mm 

I'm not going to make any detailed comments about the image quality from the E-P3 until I get some decent software to process the raw files with. Currently I'm using Rawker and while its producing sharp results, there is no correction for CA or noise, which I'm doing manually in Photoshop. I'm also not going to do any assessment of how it performs in low light at high ISO's until the new version of Adobe Camera Raw, which supports it, is released.

So these early reports are about the handling and use only.

Olympus E-P3 14-42mm lens
Olympus E-P3 14-42mm 

USING MICRO FOUR THIRDS FOR LANDSCAPE AND LOCATION WORK.

I've written about this before but its useful to re-state the reasons I've used m4/3 for a lot of my work over the past few years.

Olympus E-P3 Voigtlander 75mm f/2.5 Heliar
Olympus E-P3 Voigtlander 75mm f/2.5 Heliar

Shooting landscape / travel / location images for my publication and stock photography work requires good light (sunlight), bright saturated colour, high image quality, the capacity to produce A3 files and lots of depth of field. MIcro four thirds has been able to provide this for me. The A3 file requirement is usually taken care of by shooting multi-images, which is not ideal & time-consuming, but works well.

The great advantage to me is the depth of field. On m4/3 I can shoot at f/5.6 with the wide-angles I use mainly and get high shutter speeds. Since I hand-hold virtually everything this makes for sharp pictures. Using full-frame I'd need to be shooting at f/11 to get the same DOF.

All m4/3 cameras have good saturated colour, are sharp and with careful processing look very good indeed at low ISO's. The trade-off is reduced dynamic range, and that does take care to make sure it doesn't ruin pictures with a lot of contrast. Plus the fact that if I do want to take pictures at a high ISO rating then I have to accept that it will look inferior to larger sensors.

So all in all m4/3 are great cameras for what I do. Add in the fact that they are small and light, so are less of burden on days that involve a lot of walking and you can see why I've been so enthusuastic for them.

Olympus E-P3 14-42mm lens
Olympus E-P3 14-42mm

So does the E-P3 give me any improvements over what I've used before.

ON THE PLUS SIDE

The AF is fast. Though the GH2 struck me as just as speedy.

The OLED screen is really very good indeed. Works with my polarised sunglasses. Still affected by sunlight but the best I've used.

The controls, menu, layout etc. are very similar to the E-PL's. Not perfect but I've got used to the Olympus layout now. Certainly way better than the Fuji X100 which I struggled with and a lot better than the E-P2.

The VF-2 electronic viewfinder is really good. I have no problem with the fact that its an add-on. I'm also convinced that the signal thats being fed into it is sharper and clearer than any other previous Pen.

I personally love the handling of the E-P3. The "rangefinder style" shape does suit me very well.

After a day using the kit lens, I think it is the best yet in terms of quality. Certainly it gives instant AF.

Though I need to see what the raw files can produce with decent software I certainly have no complaints so far.

If the 12mm f/2 and 45mm f/1.8 lenses perform as good as they look then the E-P3 will be a way of getting the best out of them as Panasonic cameras don't make all the"corrections" that this camera will.

ON THE NEGATIVE SIDE.

The loss of ISO 100. It may be the case that ISO 200 on the E-P3 is as good as ISO 100 on the E-P2, but I cannot confirm or deny that yet.

Using manual focus lenses is still more fiddly than with the Panasonics.

Very poor battery life.

An articulated screen would have been nice.

One of the reasons I've gone with Olympus rather than Panasonic is I suppose a question of philosophy. Olympus are a camera / optical company only. Panasonic are an electronics multi-national. Olympus, for me, have the edge in terms of design, style and if you like a respect for the traditions and conventions of camera manufacture and what makes them work for photographers. That's a personal thing I know, but I'm much happier working with something like the E-P3 rather than the current Panasonic or Sony small camera systems.

I think I'll enjoy using the E-P3. Certainly yesterday was a good start.

Olympus E-P3 14-42mm lens
Olympus E-P3 14-42mm

Finally a bit more camera porn. The E-P3 fitted with a Nikon 24mm f/2.8D.

Olympus E-P3 Nikon 24mm f/2.8D

Olympus E-P3 Nikon 24mm f/2.8D